The following is Ann Hollingswoth's testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations hearing on Africa's Displaced People on July 9, 2015.
On Thursday, the Vatican will release Pope Francis’ first encyclical on the theme of the environment and the poor. In addition to emphasizing how environmental destruction and natural resource exploitation harm the poor, the document is expected to include a statement on role of humans in contributing to climate change. Given the Pope’s popularity, and as the spiritual leader of more than a billion Catholics around the world, his decision to narrow in on environmental exploitation and climate change has garnered significant attention from all sides.
World Refugee Day: a day to “recognize the lives of refugees and those who are dedicated to helping them.” So many of the people dedicated to helping refugees (and IDPs, asylum-seekers, and the stateless, all of whom are included in the purview of World Refugee Day) are refugees themselves. We normally think of international aid workers as the ones helping the displaced, but in places where access is difficult or dangerous, it’s often a case of refugees helping their own communities.
It is a Saturday evening in El Salvador, and my Refugees International colleague and I are riding in the back of a car with our heads on our knees. We are on our way to meet with a displaced family who are being hidden in a "safe house." We have been asked to stay undercover for the last five minutes of the approach – a security precaution to protect both ourselves and, more importantly, the family we are about to meet. It makes a profound impression upon us both as to the immediacy of the threat faced by those displaced by violence in this country.
Twelve years after they first fled, refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region are still stuck in eastern Chad. Chad is one of the poorest countries on earth, and the 360,000 Sudanese refugees live in some of its least developed regions. The climate is harsh, agriculture is often impossible, and government services like education and healthcare are largely non-existent.
On June 4, four refugees arrived in Phnom Penh’s VIP airport terminal, processed in an area usually reserved for royalty, government officials, or the odd pop star. As they were ushered into a curtained van, dozens of media organizations encircled the three Iranians and one ethnic Rohingya, eager to document the first refugees from the Australian-run Nauru detention center to be permanently resettled in Cambodia. Their arrival in Phnom Penh marks yet another chapter in Australia’s shameful asylum-seeker narrative—a narrative that systematically denies refugees the right to protection and asylum on the Australian mainland.
In January 2015, El Salvador’s media reported live as almost 50 residents of an apartment building furiously packed up everything they could before fleeing. This was not an organized evacuation for an oncoming hurricane or some other natural disaster. It was a frantic movement of people who had been ordered to get out of their homes within 24 hours or be killed by the dominating gang in that area of Mejicanos, a municipality that runs alongside San Salvador. Their fear was not unfounded. Just 10 days before, the child of a pupusa vendor was killed outside the apartment building. In 2010, just six blocks away, a bus was set on fire with the passengers still inside. Seventeen people died.
Mexicanos y Salvadoreños siguen sufriendo ataques diarios contra los individuos, familias y comunidades a través de la extorsión, secuestros, violaciones y homicidios. Estos ataques son generalmente a manos de grupos y bandas criminales organizadas, pero a menudo, la policía y los militares están involucrados o específicamente orquestando eventos violentos. La inseguridad y la focalización de los ciudadanos de ambos países han causado desplazamiento interno masivo. Aunque el número verdadero de personas internamente desplazadas por el crimen organizado no es conocido, al menos 280,000 personas fueron desplazadas en cada país el año pasado.
Mexicans and Salvadorans continue to suffer from daily attacks on Individuals, Families, and Communities through extortion, kidnappings, rapes, and homicides. These attacks are faq frequently at the hands of organized criminal groups and gangs, but Too Often, the police and military are orchestrating Specifically Involved or violent events. The insecurity and targeting of the Citizens of Both Countries have led to mass internal displacement. While the actual number of people internally displaced by organized criminal groups is not known, Were At least 280,000 people displaced in each country just last year.
From the massive migration of an estimated 70,000 unaccompanied children to the U.S. border this past summer to President Barack Obama’s recent executive action on immigration reform, issues facing Central America have entered the national spotlight here in the US. The underlying internal displacement trends within Central America have not received as much attention, but are perhaps even more important as they reveal a frightening relationship between gang violence and forced migration within Central America.
From atop a rocky hill in eastern Chad, Ali looked out at Farchana camp, home to almost 26,000 of his fellow refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan. In his field of vision, Ali could see a maze of mud-brick shelters, women chopping firewood, and roving bands of giggling children. But to Ali, all these things don’t simply amount to a refugee camp: they are a symbol of defiance
We are in the refugee camp of Touloum in eastern Chad and the sun is bright. The camp is surrounded by desert for miles in every direction. It is quiet in the camp as we walk through, except for a small group of children who are playing outside and the occasional sound of a donkey trudging through the sand.
Muslim and Christian, men and women, young and old, urban and rural. My colleague Mark Yarnell and I have spent the last two weeks meeting with internally displaced people (IDPs) across the Central African Republic and with those living across the border as refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We’ve visited those living in both formal camps and in informal sites, including churches, mosques, urban centers, and with host communities. Speaking with dozens of IDPs and refugees, we heard unconscionable stories of suffering and horrific accounts of violence. Many felt hopeless about their futures after living in terrible conditions for years. But others were more optimistic, and told us of their hopes to return home and rebuild their lives.
The Central Africa Republic has been embroiled in civil conflict since a rebel movement from the north descended on the capital, Bangui, and overthrew the government in December 2013. While stability has since improved in some parts of the Central African Republic, the situation in the town of Bambari remains volatile. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that more than 80,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) are in the city and surrounding region.
Periodic violence, reprisal attacks, recent displacement – the town of Bambari, almost right in the middle of the Central African Republic (CAR), is emblematic of the continuing crisis in the country. In 2013, many areas in CAR descended into intercommunal violence following the overthrow of the government by an amalgamation of rebel groups from the north known as the Séléka. Christian militia groups, known as anti-Balaka, started fighting against the Séléka (composed primarily of Muslims). The conflict quickly pitted neighbor against neighbor in a brutal cycle of attacks and reprisal attacks, even as the Séléka were disbanded and an augmentation of international peacekeepers was deployed to restore order